[Michael Hood. Tokyo: Kinseido, 2018. (Teacher’s Book and listening materials available online) pp. 91. ¥1,900. ISBN: 978-4-7647-4043-3.]
Think Smart is an oral communication textbook for classes of CEFR B1-B2 students or higher. It has 15 thematic units that explore a variety of issues of social concern relevant to university students in Japan, such as nuclear power, women in the workplace, American military bases in Japan, and living together before marriage. Each unit introduces specific critical thinking skills that, while cumulatively organized, are still self-contained enough for teachers, like me, who are unable to utilize the entire textbook in a single year. Each unit also contains the following sections: a reading passage, key phrases for discussion, listening activities, and topics for possible writing or presentation assignments. In addition to the textbook, there is a teacher’s manual PDF downloadable from the publisher’s website that contains answers to unit exercises and Japanese translations of the unit readings, and downloadable mp3 files for the listening activities.
I used Think Smart in my year-long, 30-week oral communication class as a starting point for discussions and presentations, and for this purpose it was more than adequate. Through the range of issues covered by Think Smart, students have ample opportunities to share their opinions and deepen their knowledge on a variety of topics through discussion and further research. For example, in each unit, I used the warm-up questions as a chance for students to build up their background information for the different topics in that unit; information which they shared on a collaborative document and which facilitated further discussion and understanding. In solicited feedback, students replied that the range of topics in Think Smart was one point they particularly liked. In addition, while this is not a reading textbook, Think Smart includes in its reading sections a variety of written genres that can be explored on their own merits by teachers wishing to include a greater reading and writing focus in their classes. Similarly, although the textbook does not have an explicit, built-in presentation pedagogy, the final topics in each unit are easily adaptable to teaching informational or persuasive presentations, and potentially other genres as well. Finally, Think Smart provides an attempt to develop students’ argumentation skills in both unpacking the ideas of others and expressing their own. For instance, the comprehension questions often ask students to identify the possible audience or perspective of the writer, thus helping students identify possible biases. Additionally, the useful expressions, which are recycled in the subsequent listening audio, help students learn how to express disagreement constructively.
Considering these strengths, however, there is one apparent discrepancy between the concern for social issues expressed throughout the textbook content of Think Smart and its implementation in the listening program specifically. In this section, 11 of the 12 listening activities are accompanied by the faces and names of the two purported speakers: one that is Western, with names like Ann, Jane, Frank, or Sam; and one that is Japanese, with names such as Shiori, Aya, Koji, or Taro. Only the chapter on US military bases in Okinawa features the faces and names of two purportedly Japanese speakers alone. Despite the visual representation of speakers whose names and appearance imply that they are not from inner circle countries (Kachru, 1992), the accents of both speakers in the audio program resemble those of majority white North Americans. The use of a particular, recognizable inner circle accent in the textbook audio is likely due to concerns, however misguided, by the publisher regarding its intelligibility, so that student listeners can understand what is said, as well as regarding the comprehensibility of passages within their contexts (Smith & Nelson, 1985). In doing so, however, this textbook, like many others on the Japanese ELT market, continues the privileging of a specific accent according to a raciolinguistic (Rosa & Flores, 2017) and native speaker-centered hierarchy of who English belongs to and whose English sounds right and is more highly valued (Ramjattan, 2019). That said, Think Smart should not be singled out too harshly since most ELT textbook audio programs on the market in Japan share this flaw. Nevertheless, it is hoped that future editions of textbooks like Think Smart that focus on topical social issues will feature a greater variety of Englishes and English speakers so as to represent the language as spoken by most people with whom students may use English outside the classroom, and also because studies suggest that greater exposure to greater varieties of English can lead to their improved comprehension (Kennedy & Trofimovich, 2008).
In closing, even with the above concerns, Think Smart remains an excellent choice for teachers, particularly those of students with sufficient maturity, interest, and motivation to pursue the the topics it contains.
Kachru, B. B. (1992). Teaching world Englishes. In B. B. Kachru (Ed.) The other tongue: English across cultures (2nd ed., pp. 355–365). University of Illinois Press.
Kennedy, S., & Trofimovich, P. (2008). Intelligibility, comprehensibility, and accentedness of L2 speech: The role of listener experience and semantic context. Canadian Modern Language Review, 64(3), 459–489. https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.64.3.459
Ramjattan, V. A. (2019). Raciolinguistics and the aesthetic labourer. Journal of Industrial Relations, 61(5), 726–738. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022185618792990
Rosa, J., & Flores, N. (2017). Unsettling race and language: Toward a raciolinguistic perspective. Language in Society, 46(5), 621–647. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404517000562
Smith, L. E., & Nelson, C. L. (1985). International intelligibility of English: Directions and resources. World Englishes, 4(3), 333–342. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.1985.tb00423.x